When a disciplined agile project or product team starts, one of the process goals which they will likely need to address is Identify Initial Technical Strategy. This is sometimes referred to as initial architecture envisioning or simply initial architecture modeling. This is an important process goal for several reasons. First, the team should think through, at least at a high level, their architecture so as to identify a viable strategy for moving forward into construction. A little bit of up-front thinking can increase your effectiveness as a team by getting you going in a good direction early in the lifecycle. Second, the team should strive to identify the existing organizational assets, such as web services, frameworks, or legacy data sources, that they can potentially leverage while producing the new solution desired by their stakeholders. By doing this you increase the chance of reuse, thereby avoiding adding technical debt into your organizational ecosystem, and more importantly you reduce the time and cost of delivering a new solution as the result of reuse. You will do this by working with your organization’s enterprise architects, if you have any. This is an aspect of Disciplined Agile’s philosophy of working in an enterprise aware manner.
The process goal diagram for Identify Initial Architecture Strategy is shown below. The rounded rectangle indicates the goal, the squared rectangles indicate issues or process factors that you may need to consider, and the lists in the right hand column represent potential strategies or practices that you may choose to adopt to address those issues. The lists with an arrow to the left are ordered, indicating that in general the options at the top of the list are more preferable from an agile point of view than the options towards the bottom. The highlighted options (bolded and italicized) indicate default starting points for teams looking for a good place to start but who don’t want to invest a lot of time in process tailoring right now. Each of these practices/strategies has advantages and disadvantages, and none are perfect in all situations, which is why it is important to understand the options you have available to you.
Let’s consider each process factor:
We want to share two important observations about this goal. First, this goal, along with Explore Initial Scope, Coordinate Activities, and Move Closer to a Deployable Release seem to take the brunt of your process tailoring efforts when working at scale. It really does seem to be one of those Pareto situations where 20% addresses 80% of the work, more on this in a future blog posting. As you saw in the discussion of the process issues, the process tailoring decisions that you make regarding this goal will vary greatly based on the various scaling factors. Second, as with all process goal diagrams, the one above doesn’t provide an exhaustive list of options although it does provide a pretty good start.
We’re firm believers that a team should tailor their strategy, including their team structure, their work environment, and their process, to reflect the situation that they find themselves in. When it comes to process tailoring, process goal diagrams not only help teams to identify the issues they need to consider they also summarize potential options available to them. Agile teams with a minimal bit of process guidance such as this are in a much better situation to tailor their approach than teams that are trying to figure it out on their own. The DA process decision framework provides this guidance.
The Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework includes an explicit Inception phase – sometimes called a project initiation phase, startup phase, or iteration/sprint zero – which is conducted before actually starting to build a solution. The goals of this phase include: clarifying the business problem that needs to be solved; identifying a viable technical solution; planning your approach; setting up your work environment and team; and gaining stakeholder concurrence that it makes sense to proceed with investing in the implementation of the chosen strategy. These goals are listed in the following diagram.
In the Disciplined Agile Delivery book we devoted a lot space to describing how to effectively initiate a DAD project. Unfortunately in our experience we have seen many organizations that are still new to agile treat this phase as an opportunity to do massive amounts of upfront documentation in the form of project plans, charters, and requirements specifications. Some people have referred to the practice of doing too much temporary documentation up front on an agile project as Water-Scrum-Fall. We cannot stress enough that this is NOT the intent of the Inception phase. While we provide many alternatives for documenting your vision in Inception, from very heavy to very light, you should take a minimalist approach to this phase and strive to reach the stakeholder consensus milestone as quickly as possible.
According to the 2013 Agile Project Initiation survey the average agile team invests about 4 weeks performing project initiation activities, including initial requirements envisioning, initial architecture envisioning, forming the team, initial release planning, and so on. Of course this is just an average, some respondents reported investing less than a week to do so and some reporting investing more than two months – the amount of time required varies depending on the complexity of the effort, your stakeholders’ understanding of their requirements, your team’s understanding of the solution architecture, whether this is a new solution or merely a new release of an existing solution, and many others.
If you are spending more than a few weeks on this phase, you may be regressing to a Water-Scrum-Fall approach. It takes discipline to be aware of this trap and to streamline your approach as much as possible. You can do this in several ways:
I think that it’s very clear that the secret to keeping Inception short is to have the discipline to know that you need to invest some time thinking your approach through but that you want to avoid getting bogged down in too many details. You need the discipline to do some planning but not too much. You need the discipline to do some modeling but not too much. You need the discipline to get going in the right direction knowing that the details will come out in time.